Poetry can...be this kind of code—it's like its own escape room. You get stuck in here. And I think it's a lot of fun.
I fell in love with the sonnet because Lyrae [Van Clief-Stefanon] saw [the form] as a box of tension and release. If you're limited to only 14 lines and 10 syllables per line, then you go back in and—Lyrae taught me this—you go back in and you delete those unnecessary words. So often—especially in poetry and especially in lyric poetry—you don't need that conjunction. You don't need that preposition. You don't need that article. You don't need that unnecessary adjective that doesn't add anything to the actual image or...the action of the poem.
Listen to the full Primitive Information interview with Dorothy Chan below.
Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She is a 2020 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Poetry for Revenge of the Asian Woman, a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University, and a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. Chan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Poetry Editor of Hobart. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com.
“Who doesn’t think kissing is the greatest thing / in the world other than eating?” Revenge of the Asian Woman comes to life on a sexed-up soap opera / B-movie platter where passion and food and fantasy reign supreme: excess in the form of full odes and triple sonnets with towers of macarons and carnival desserts and Hong Kong street food on a skewer—and make it a double.
The East Asian girl boss takes her revenge on those who have fetishized her, looking great in gold booty shorts, because “If I played roller derby, my name would be Yellow Fever, / knocking out all those white boys from college / who used to whisper sweet nothings to me // in Mandarin.” She narrates her parents’ love story, the Chinese-American immigrant dream, her eastern zodiac fate, and her own sexual awakening. Revenge comes to life with scenes that mimic the movies: the speaker’s father as a young boy in Hong Kong running into a circus tent, winning a rice eating contest; young lovers in LA at 3 in the morning; and a forehead that is “too Godzilla, too Tarzan / too Wonder Woman”—scenes of a Chinese American experience, one in which the female speaker is “ready for takeoff,” while paying homage to her heritage: a grandmother who wants to buy her all the jade and gold in the world, a younger cousin who thinks she’s had a hundred boyfriends, and a grandfather who watches Hong Kong soaps with her.
Revenge of the Asian Woman is really about “it,” whether that “it” is the It girl, the It trend, or that ineffable feeling you have in “LA, 3 AM, the wind in your hair, down to your / breasts, braless under a low-v dress, / stroking the driver who’s your lover.” This collection presents plenty of longing for those fleeting moments, regardless if those moments are the speaker’s first sexual awakening in “Ode to the First Boy Who Made Me Feel It”; the mother recounting her favorite childhood show about a family trying to reunite in “Triple Sonnet for Autoerotica”; or the nostalgia that’s presented with references to '80s teen films starring Andrew McCarthy, Liberace’s reign of Las Vegas, or “an appliance / that would deliver food from any part of the world—any part of the universe” from The Jetsons.
And with all this sex and food and longing, Revenge of the Asian Woman is above all, a fun romp. Let’s have a little Liberace-Las-Vegas-fun along the way with the glitz and glamour and kitsch of Japanese love hotels, B-movie starring Asian girls traveling to Mars, and total fantasy fulfillment as our dreams and nightmares come to life. The Asian woman conquers all, having her cake and eating it too—“Oh, cut that cake again.”